stratEGIC Monthly (November 2022):
Qatar's Ambitions and the Gulf’s Pivot to Asia
By Veronica Stigliani and Ashleigh White
The tenth issue of the stratEGIC Monthly, featuring analyses of key issues that defined the Euro-Gulf space in November 2022, assesses Qatar’s ambitions in light of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the Gulf countries’ pivot to Asia.
Successful or Not? Qatar’s International Ambitions
By Ashleigh White
On 24 November, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Qatar. The European Union (EU) Resolution asked Qatar and FIFA to extend compensation for the families of workers who suffered while building the World Cup 2022 infrastructure in Doha. When Qatar won the bid for the 2022 World Cup in 2010, many thought that the first World Cup hosted in a Middle Eastern country would boost Qatar’s image and reputation in the global scene. However, since 2021 there has been an increased amount of Western media and public skepticism about the human rights situation. There have also been multiple protests to Qatari laws within the tournament itself. The German team, in particular, has made multiple signs of protest for migrant workers’ and LGBTQ+ rights. Prior to the tournament’s start, FIFA banned Germany, along with other European teams, from wearing rainbow armbands promoting LGBTQ+ rights, a social justice campaign meant to draw attention to marginalised groups in the country. The German national team then protested Qatar and FIFA’s decision by covering their mouths during the traditional team picture. Members of the German government were also engaged—Nancy Faeser, the German Interior Minister, attended Germany’s first match seated next to FIFA’s President, Gianni Infantino, while wearing the One Love armband that the German captain was going to wear. German protests in Qatar have been particularly interesting as Qatar and Germany just signed their first long term liquified natural gas (LNG) deal.
On 29 November, QatarEnergy and ConocoPhillips signed agreements to export 2 million tonnes of LNG annually to Germany for at least 15 years. Since Qatar and the US are among a few key LNG exporters, more EU members will come to rely on Qatar for their gas needs. European LNG demand is anticipated to balloon through 2030, so Qatar will continue to look for new long-term partnerships to support its massive production expansion. Overall, it seems like Qatar remains an important actor and although the negative publicity that surrounded the World Cup posed a PR challenge, it has not really dented Doha’s strategic position on the international level.
The Gulf Countries’ Pivot to Asia
By Veronica Stigliani
November was marked by a number of official meetings between key Gulf and Asian states. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud (MbS), and the UAE President, Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, both attended the G20 Summit in Bali, with the former representing a member state of the group and the latter participating as a guest. The main topic under discussion was the global energy crisis sparked by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and the two GCC leaders were key. MbS continued his Asian tour to South Korea and Thailand, where he signed several investment agreements in the fields of energy, hydrogen, trade, chemicals, defence, infrastructure, construction, tourism and climate change. Qatar, for its part, inked a major 27-year deal to supply China with liquefied natural gas.
The Gulf has emerged as an area of increased competition between the United States, China, and Russia. Washington works to maintain its privileged position in the region while diverting some of its energies to other parts of the world, most notably the Indo-Pacific. Meanwhile, Russia and China are developing solid ties to the Gulf to pursue their strategic interests such as trade, energy security and security. China is particularly interested and the visit undertaken by China’s Special Envoy for the Middle East, Zhai Jun, to Oman and Kuwait, which aimed to boost cooperation in several fields and to consolidate diplomatic relations is an indication of things to come. The first Arab-Chinese summit, held in December in Riyadh with the presence of Chinese President, Xi Jinping, also confirms Beijing’s ambitions.
The Gulf remains front-and-centre on the strategic radar of the US, Russia and China offering the GCC an important role to play in global affairs and providing them with a wide assortment of options. It is increasingly clear that the view from the Gulf is of a world in which their strategic importance continues to grow and, with it, the importance of striking a balance.